This is a shaggy dog story.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it refers to a long and overly complicated story with a sudden absurd twist at the end which makes nonsense of most of the story we’ve just heard.
In fact, I would be hard pressed to say whether this film or Joe Dante’s Explorers had the absolutely stupidest surprise ending ever.
And, let’s face it, stories just don’t come much shaggier than Explorers.
This film also has two other notable distinctions: it was shot in 3-D, as part of that sudden wave of 3-D movies that came out after Bwana Devil; and it was the final film directed by the legendary Production Designer, William Cameron Menzies.
Menzies didn’t direct that many films, but he was literally THE Production Designer, as the title was invented to describe what he did, designing all the aspects of a film. But I’ll confess that I was a little disappointed here as I miss the more surreal touches he added to some of his better films, like The Thief of Baghdad: there’s a beautiful miniature of the Maze itself, an imposing and creepy set of interiors, a reasonably interesting hidden staircase complete with rubber bats, and a few fascinating camera set-ups: but the interior of the Maze (when we finally reach it) is rather dull and the miniature of the house itself seems rather blank, is only ever shot from the front and the same angle, and fails to be all that imposing.
But perhaps it looked better in 3-D.
For most of its length this is a nice little Gothic mystery: Richard Carlson suddenly inherits his Uncle’s Scottish Castle and title, but then cuts himself off from the world, his friends and fiancee.
And when she visits him, she is shocked to find how much he’s changed. Something is wrong at the Castle, something that has to do with the mysterious Maze, and she’s determined to find out what it is.
There’s a lot to like about this one: it offers us a nicely creepy Gothic horror that builds nicely and has plenty of strange little details. it bogs down just a little when we finally reach the castle, but things pick up when we finally enter the Maze.
Well, let’s just say it’s silly. Very silly.
And it is more or less science fiction, even if it is based on one of the most durable bits of psuedoscience ever, a notion which has been refuted again and again since the 1850s and yet just won’t go away.
In a way, the least surprising thing about this one is that it was based on a surrealist novel: after all, the surrealists loved anything surprising and shocking and totally absurd.
No matter how shaggy that dog is.
Oh well. This is a beautifully made minor film. Even the…effects for that last minute surprise look quite good. It isn’t a great film (and I think it might have been better if a certain newly introduced character had done the final explanations at the end before he croaked), but it is modestly enjoyable…
Except for that last little bit.
3 thoughts on “The Maze (1953)”